Around and About, June 1981

Rough road enthusiasm

Victor Gauntlett, already heading Aston Martin and Pace Petroleum, has a new enthusiasm in life. Recently, through the medium of Pace Petroleum he decided to back the BBC Televised Esgair Dafydd Rallysprint. Having already decided to back former British rally champion Russell Brookes in his ex-works Sunbeam Lotus, Gauntlett took in the spirit of the thing wholeheartedly and accompanied Brookes throughout the timed runs on the day.

By the close of play they were third — Tony Pond in the DTV Chevette HSR was the victor — and Gauntlett confessed himself very taken with both rallysprint, as a promotion, and the activities of Mr. Brookes in more conventional forest events. Judging by the way the Gauntlett Range Rover disappeared from the scene with all four wheels on an earth-moving spree, we shall hear a lot more of Pace’s enthusiasim for this aspect of the sport.

However that doesn’t mean Gauntlett has forgotten his love of motor racing. The shrewd deal he did by backing Nigel Mansell personally over an initial three years may yet be accompanied by an effort to get Aston Martin’s name back into long distance racing. With things not so good in the A-M L business at present, outside sponsorship is a certain need, but based on the determination Gauntlett has shown so far this will be surmountable.

Whether Aston can be competitive is another matter. Recent efforts at glorifying the name in long distance events have detracted rather than added to the lustre of A-M’s reputation.

For ourselves Motor Sport sent a reporter down to accompany the young British rally driver Terry Kaby, in the original DTV Chevette HSR that won the 1980 Circuit of Ireland, for a ride upon the slippery, stony slopes of Esgair Dafydd.

A good day was enjoyed by all, though a gearbox malfunction robbed our amiable driver (who had just caused something of a stir by finishing fifth in the tough World Championship Corsican rally-cum-road race) of a possible fifth or sixth place. Of course it’s not “Real Rallying,” because you are only running for about 11.2 minutes instead of days, but it’s enough to put a grin on the face, and understand why people are so been to sit alongside the best talents as they perform their deeds of derring-do.

The New Ferrari

While traversing the Cotswolds in the road-test Mercedes-Benz 500SEL [see next month] we called in at Bibury Court Hotel where Rosso Ltd., of Cirencester, were holding an informal gathering of Ferrari owners, actual and potential, to see and try the latest product of Maranello. This is the bright red Mondial 8, the natural successor to the 308 GTB and the 308 GTB4, with 3-litre V8 engine transversely mounted at the rear. This new model runs so sweetly and smoothly that it is difficult to say where the engine is mounted when surging along at an easy 100 m.p.h. The slightly angular Pininfarina body is a two-door, two-seater with two small occasional seats behind the driver and passenger. The pedals are slightly offset towards the centre of the car, which is the only indication that your feet are level with the front wheels, as the wheel arch intrudes into the cockpit, and from this fact you realise that the engine must be at the back. The only other indication is the fact that the gear-change is a bit agricultural, suggesting that the 5-speed gearbox is a long way away from the lever, which, of course, it is.

The suspension is independent on all four wheels, using swinging arms and coil spring/damper units at each corner and the ride and handling is so good that one passenger remarked ” . . . rides like a Lotus . . .” and there cannot be a better compliment than that. The 81 x 71 mm. engine is 2,926 c.c. capacity and develops 214 b.h.p. DIN at 6,600 r.p.m. (158kW), the four overhead camshafts are driven by toothed belts and fuel is delivered by Bosch K-Jetronic petrol injection, while Marelli-Digiplex electronic ignition is used.

This was no more than a brief acquaintance with the latest Ferrari production car, now available in right-hand-drive form in this country for £24,488.25, thanks to Maranello Concessionaires, of Thorpe, who import all Ferrari cars into Great Britain, and Rosso Ltd., who are their agents for the Cotswold area. The 308 GTB and GTS are still available, as is the svelte front engine 400i, the last V12 Ferrari, while for anyone interested in going really fast the Berlinetta Boxer 512 is still to be had. This ultimate Ferrari road car, with mid-mounted flat-12-cylinder 5-litre engine costs £36,714.93, but remember that the Government takes £3,456.03 in Car Tax, and a further £4,788.90 in VAT. Any Berlinetta Boxer owner must feel proud to have contributed £8,244.93 to the country’s Exchequer, while even a new Mondial 8 owner is forced to contribute £4,832.25 to the Exchequer, out of the purchase price of £24,488.25. We wonder if Enzo Ferrari realises how much he is supporting Great Britain by producing such desirable cars.

Among the cars at the gathering were an immaculate Ferrari Daytona, a Berlinetta Boxer and a pristine 1948 two-door 212 Inter coupe, with the original 612 single-carburetter engine. We wafted silently away in the dark brown 135+ m.p.h. Mercedes-Benz limousine realising that the world of Ferrari is a world apart.

Fiat’s Good New Small Car

It was up to North Wales last month to drive the Fiat Panda 45, which was officially released here six days ago, latest small-car from a Company that has long been in the forefront of minicar design and production. You will be able to purchase Pandas from the 22nd of this month. We tend to like most cars but especially big ones and very small ones. In the latter context no-one can ignore Fiat, who cocked a very impressive snoot at the ageing Austin 7 with the 570 c.c. Topolino before the war, and followed this up with the well-liked rear-engined 500 of which they made over 3 1/2 million, which is still in production as the Tipo 126 and likely to remain so in the foreseeable future.

There were also somewhat bigger little-Fiats, such as the water-cooled 600 and later the highly successful 127 and 128, leading to the individualistic Strada. If you are reduced to, or have a use for, a truly small car you should see that you get fun as well as utility from it, and in this context it is pleasing that the air-cooled twin-cylinder engine has survived for so long. (No worry about anti-freeze on this cold night!) Citroen did it so very well with the immortal 2cv., which Renault effectively copied in four-pot water-cooled form with the Renault-4, refined into the Renault-5. Fiat made the true baby-compact, with the rear-engined 126, likewises a two-cylinder, but in vertical instead of horizontally-opposed form, and this engine has found its way, in the later refined guise, into one version of the new Panda, but only for the Italian market.

The Fiat Panda. which we shall be hearing a lot more of, uses the well-established 903 cc.,127 engine which has antiquated push-rod overhead-valve-gear like the Mini Metro. As the engine pokes out 45 (DIN) 13.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m., or about what 1 1/2-litre sports cars developed in vintage times, excellent performance results when this willing power-unit is put into a 126-sized Fiat — the Panda 45 is just over 11′ long, with a 7′ 1″ wheelbase. Kerb weight is. 13.4 cwt. (63/37%, front-rear). So you get a ready cruising speed of 60-70 rn.p.h., the engine buzzing round at 4,370 r.p.m. at the latter speed; it gives 47 ft./lb. torque at 3,000 r.p.m. They say the Panda 45 will wind up to 87 m.p.h., do 0-62 m.p.h. in 18.6 seconds, and even quote a towing ability for it of 14.8 cwt.

The Panda looks like a 126, same 2-box body-shape, same side-protruding fuel filler-cap, but the big windscreen and windows and high roof-line give a big-car impression from within. There is a single wiper-blade, sweeping the left better than the right side of the screen, but with 2-speed and intermittent action. The seats of this f.w.d., disc/drum-braked, all-synchromesh 4-speed Panda are wafer-thin but quite comfortable, and the spacious back seat is just a detachable hammock that gives all manner of permutations down to double beds and luggage space ranging from 9.6 to 38.4 cub. ft. This must be one of the last cars, with the 126, to have openable 1/4-windovvs in the wide doors, and the rear windows also vent. Indeed, equipment is generous, instrumentation and controls simple. The mileometer has no decimal reading, six fascia switches and Fiat’s triple stalk-controls look after things, but you get exterior mirrors both sides, and a lipped tailgate. There is a heated rear window, carpets, laminated screen, rear wipe/wash, Veglia temperature and fuel gauges, washable fascia shelf covering with detachable ashray, etc. but the washers are worked by pressing a rubber bulb, as on the 126. Cryla-Gard guaranteed anti-rust treatment is used, and the pedals are well placed.

Driving as hard as possible from Maentwrog the impressive mountain passes beside Lake Bala to the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel for lunch, we put the car through its paces. The Panda uses lightweight RIV-SKR hubs all round, for reduced unsprung weight, in conjunction with McPherson front struts and a dead rear axle on 1/2-elliptic springs. The handling is very good indeed, with pronounced understeer when cornering hard, but little roll. The brakes need a firrn prod but proved effective when sheep, unacquainted with cars, unlike those in Mid-Wales, ran across our path. The high final-drive of 4.07 to 1 makes for quiet running by baby-car standards and the rack-and-pinion steering, geared 3.4 turns, lock-to-lock, is notably accurate, if heavy at low speeds. The test car was on 13″ Pirelli Cinturato P3 tyres. The gear change is good, if less silky than that of a Ford or Hillman Imp box. Averaging a speed that impressed us, less than half the fuel tank’s contents (7 3/4-gallons) were used in 110 miles, say about 37 m.p.g., which those not trying so hard will obviously improve upon.

This Fiat Panda 45 is essentially a very small, easy-to-park, fun car; essentially the latter! No price has yet been declared and this will be the crucial factor. If it is decently below £2,974 of the Ford Fiesta Popular, a more conventional and refined approach to economy motoring, or the £3,199 of the basic Renault 4, we should soon see posses of Pandas on British roads. It will hopefully undercut the £2,800 of the cheapest 3-door Fiat 127. Fiat also claim very low service-charges for the Panda, the first routine service costing £89.15 after 24,000 miles, which they compare with £96.07 for a Metro, pointing out that the Panda goes in dock for 5.7 hours, against 6 1/2 hours for a Renault 5 and a longer period for other small cars. Note, though, that the Metro’s claim to cheap servicing is endorsed, as it needs only 0.05 hours longer in dock than a Panda, by Fiat’s figures. In this respect, the Consumers Association has been looking at spare-parts and servicing costs and the Reliant Kitten comes out well, and may be quieter at 60 m.p.h. than a Panda, but with only human ears to rely on we wouldn’t wish to be dogmatic.

The main thing, though, is that Giorgio Giugiaro, starting in 1976, has produced another fun-economy car for Fiat and if you see what look like very quick 126s on our roads, you will know what you are up against.